Produce vendors anticipate a steady sales year

07/07/2010 11:26:28 AM
Jim Offner

Produce wholesalers and distributors in the Pacific Northwest say sales have been brisk, and they expect healthy activity during the 2010 summer season.

But the down economy is having its way, said Terry Luppino, vice president of Northwest Fruit & Produce Inc., Fife, Wash.

“Business is not good,” he said. “It all follows. Everything is slow, with the economy the way it is.”

There have been some concerns about the weather, however, and not just in the Pacific Northwest region.

“Adverse weather conditions and natural catastrophes throughout the Americas in growing areas throughout this year have not helped this situation,” said John Janker, merchandising manager for Charlie’s Produce, Seattle.

“We have had cold temps in Florida, cold and wet weather in Mexico, earthquakes in South America and now here in the Northwest are experiencing one of the wettest spring/summers on record.”

Higher commodity prices are affecting the consumers and the retailers, Janker added.

The recession has been a factor in the produce business in recent years, some distributors say.

“Initially, I’d say business was down between 15% and 25%, depending on who you talk to, but overall, it’s on the rebound now,” said Pat Suyama, owner of Seattle-based wholesaler City Produce.

Mark Adams, owner of Seattle-based Northwest Specialty Produce, said things had been fairly smooth with his company.

“Business has been fine,” he said, adding that his company offers an array of locally grown products, including colored bell peppers, summer squash, strawberries and raspberries.

Clackamas, Ore.-based Botsford & Goodfellow Inc. also reported strong business.

“Our growing areas are doing well,” said Ron Escene, manager. “People are buying food and cooking at home, but they’re still buying produce.”

Escene said there had been some volatility in pricing, which he said was a concern.

“Markets have fluctuated a lot more than I’ve ever seen, from $5 one day to $20 next, back down the next and up to $30 the next,” he said.

“Nobody can keep a consistent market going. It’s like some shippers are running around with their head cut off.”

The region’s summertime market is weighted heavily toward locally grown sales, said Dale Hayton, sales manager of Valley Pride Sales, Mount Vernon, Wash.

“I’d say there’s definitely a buy local trend, which helps us in our Northwest markets, but we ship some products across the country,” he said.

“Usually, it’s quality, price or both creates business.”

Hayton said his company tries to market quality first.

“That’s what gains our market share — the quality of the pack our growers produce,” he said.

“We’re very fortunate in our corner of the world that we’ve got a very suitable climate and soil conditions for specialty colored potatoes.”

Hayton said Washington’s distinct climates — rainforest west of the Cascade Range and desert to the east, provide a much-appreciated variety in products.

“We’re very large in agriculture, and it’s a very versatile state,” he said.

“We’ve got grapes and asparagus and apples and cherries on the east side of the state, and on the west side, we have quite a few vegetable items.”

Steve Davis, produce buyer with Portland, Ore.-based Aloha Produce, said he hadn’t had any complaints about the pace of his company’s sales.

“It hasn’t been too bad. We’ve been pretty steady,” he said.

“We’ve had a little increase lately. It has picked up for us. I know it’s been rough for a lot of houses, but we seem to be holding our own. People obviously still have to eat. We’re faring OK.”

There’s no seasonal increase in business during the summer, Davis said.

“It really doesn’t fluctuate for us too much,” he said.

“We do lose some school business, but our other restaurant business picks up.”

Maureen Royal, sales representative for Bridges Produce, Portland, said her company is looking for growth in the foodservice sector.

“There’s room for growth there,” she said. “I’m seeing a more educated consumer that’s doing the buying. They have increased their knowledge of what organics is about.”



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